Friday, August 27, 2010

Reader's Diary #644- Stacey May Fowles: Fear of Fighting

Back in February I wrote a negative review of Stacey May Fowles' short story "Three-Legged Dog." It wasn't the harshest review I'd ever written by any means so I was quite taken aback by the flack I took for it. Not wanting to relive that experience, I was reluctant to pick this one up. If I didn't like it, there just might be a hit out on me.

But I have no fear of fighting (you like that?) and felt I owed it to the good people at Invisible Publishing to finally give them a review. Invisible Publishing sent me a review copy way back in March when I was a participant in the National Posts' Canada Also Reads competition (Fear of Fighting was one of seven books up against my pick, Steve Zipp's Yellowknife.)

So will the Fowles fans be sharpening their axes and lighting their torches? I hope not, because I loved Fear of Fighting.

Marnie, a... a... a psychologically troubled Torontonian woman in her late 20s, was a surprising delight, even if I flipped between wanting to shake her and wanting to hold her while she cried. The last time I'd read a book about a woman with a mental illness had not been a good experience. Oddly, AmberLee Kolson's Wings of Glass and Fowles' Fear of Fighting were similar in a lot of ways. Besides the obvious depression, both protagonists were obsessed with details. Kolson's unnamed woman tells us all the ingredients in her stew, Marnie lists the contents of her purse. But unlike Kolson, Fowles is able to make such diversions entertaining. Perhaps it was a better sense of pacing. Fowles kept the chapters short, the sentences short, and the diversions short. Just when you think she's veering too close to navel gazing territory, she switches gears. There's a point to this or if not, there's a point to this.

I think that's what impressed me most about the book; every time it reminded me of another book, I realized Fowles had done the better job. Marnie's quirkiness reminded me of Miriam Toews' Nomi from a complicated kindness, just less overdone. Marnie's sideways glances at society reminded me of Heather O'neill's Baby from Lullabies for Little Criminals, just less cynical. And perhaps most importantly, Marnie is more humble than Fowles' "Three-Legged Dog" narrator.

Fear of Fighting
is a modern Canadian novel done right...finally.

Now to revisit my National Post Canada Also Reads standings (I've now read 4 of the 8 books):

1st: Steve Zipp's Yellowknife- For the record, I can admit when I'm wrong, and I'd be willing to knock Zipp's book out of first place if I thought another book deserved it. Now, for the first time, I'm hesitant. It's a funny, fast and full of interesting characters but the reason I think it's superior to the others is because it's unlike any other Canadian novel I've ever read. Bearing only a possible resemblance to Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, it's one of the more experimental books I've ever read from any country. I think Canada needs more risk-takers. That said, I think more people would like my new #2 pick.

2nd: Stacey May Fowles' Fear of Fighting (see reasons above)

3rd: Jocelyne Allen's You and the Pirates- More experimental than Fowles' book, but not as well written

4th: Jessica Grant's Come, Thou Tortoise - And yet this one won Canada Also Reads. If all the voters actually read all 8 books, this one wouldn't stand a chance. I say that confidently with still four to go.


Anonymous said...

Tempting! but so is Yellowknife too. I need more time!!!!!

Chrisbookarama said...

Doesn't sound half bad. I might give it a try.

Loni said...

Haha! I remember your last foray into Fowles territory. I'm glad it worked out better this time.

John Mutford said...

Emeire: You can read both, they aren't going anywhere ;)

Chris: I think you'd like it.

Loni: No flaming bags of dog poop on my doorstep this time.